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French police used teargas to break up a rally in central Paris after banning pro-Palestinian protests, fearing they would “generate disturbances to public order”.
President Emmanuel Macron, who has condemned Saturday's deadly attack by the Palestinian militant Hamas group and voiced solidarity with Israel, urged France to remain united in a solemn national address, saying it would protect the country from “hatred and excesses”.
France has Europe's largest Jewish community with thousands of dual nationals living in Israel, and the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.
The Middle East conflict has often stoked domestic tensions, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict contributing to growing tensions between the two communities.
The French leader opted to address the nation in a bid to prevent any domestic escalation.
“This event is an earthquake for Israel, the Middle East and beyond,” he said. “Let's not pursue at home ideological adventures by imitating or projecting.”
“Let's not add, through illusions or calculations, domestic divides to international divides,” he said. “The shield of unity will protect us from hatred and excesses.”
He added: “There is no 'Yes, but'. Those who confuse the Palestinian cause with the justification of terrorism are making a moral, political and strategic mistake.”
France’s interior minister Gerald Darmanin had earlier banned pro-Palestinian protests, saying they were “likely to generate disturbances to public order”.
Mr Macron said the government had boosted police protection of Jewish sites, including schools and synagogues, and that there could be no justification for atrocities.
Israeli and Palestinian demonstrations across Europe – in pictures
Before he spoke, the far-left France Unbowed party faced criticism for refusing to call the Hamas attack an act of terrorism, causing tension with its Socialist and Green opposition partners.
Hamas called for protests across the Muslim world on Friday to support Palestinians.
Two pro-Palestinian rallies in Paris had already been banned on Thursday for fear of outbursts when Mr Darmanin told authorities to ban all such demonstrations across the country.
Despite the ban, several hundred pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered in central Paris in separate groups that police forces tried to prevent from merging.
“We live in a country of civil law, a country where we have the right to take a stand and to demonstrate. (It is unfair) to forbid for one side and to authorise for the other,” said Charlotte Vautier, 29, an employee at a non-profit who took part in the rally.
Since the Hamas cross-border attack from Gaza on Saturday, French police have arrested more than 20 people over dozens of antisemitic acts, including harassment of Jewish schoolchildren by fellow pupils, the government said on Wednesday.
On Thursday Mr Macron vowed to do everything to bring back French citizens held by Hamas in Gaza, but warned that the only way to end the bloodshed would be through guaranteeing Israel's security and creating a state for Palestinians.
Mr Macron said 13 French citizens had been killed by Palestinian militant Islamists from Hamas in its October 7 attacks in Israel and that a further 17, including children, were unaccounted for with some likely being held in the besieged Gaza enclave bordering the Mediterranean.
“France is doing everything alongside Israeli authorities and our partners to bring them home safely because France never abandons its children,” he said.
Calling Hamas a terrorist group that wanted the destruction of Israel and its people, Mr Macron said a war without end was not the solution.
“Israel has the right to defend itself by eliminating terrorist groups, including Hamas through targeted actions, but also by preserving civilian populations because that's the duty of democracies,” he said.
Mr Macron said he had spoken to leaders across the region and that the priority should be to prevent the conflict spreading to Lebanon and ensuring humanitarian aid was available, but he said there had to be a longer term response.
“Fighting terrorism cannot replace the search for peace. The conditions for a lasting peace are known: Indispensable security guarantees for Israel and a state for Palestinians,” he said without making any suggestions on how to achieve this after decades of impasse.
His foreign ministry spokeswoman said earlier in the day that despite close links between Hamas and Iran, France had no formal trace of a direct Iranian role in the attacks.
She added that Paris had passed messages to regional actors warning against taking advantage of the crisis.
“The message we are passing is clear. We insist that no actor hostile to Israel attempts to take advantage of these attacks,” Anne-Claire Legendre said during a news conference.
France scheduled a special Air France flight from Tel Aviv on Thursday to help repatriate any French nationals who have been unable to leave.
Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said she would be heading to Israel on Sunday.